Friday, August 25, 2006

Wisdom takes her stand at the crossroads

I was reading this truly excellent column by Athenae and I was thinking about her conclusion, about the issue of boundaries and when we say: "We've done enough. What more can you ask of us?"

And thinking about the controversy in the Anglican Communion, and the statements of Archbishop Williams, that it isn't about inclusion, it's about being right. The decision of who to admit to the church is one question. The decision of who to admit to the priesthood, or the bishopric, is another. The latter is clearly a question of power. No pastor, no priest, is ever unaware of the power of the church to remove her, or him, from the position she holds. Few church members ever face that issue: every priest or pastor does. It's entirely a question of power, and how it is exercised.

And the fact is, it is usually exercised badly. Certainly there are priest and pastors who shouldn't hold pulpits, bishops who shouldn't have a diocese to oversee. But usually the failure of power runs the other direction, and it runs that way because those with the power decide that they are overwhelmed, and that their first responsiblity is to the people of Jefferson Parish; their people. And they don't want to take account of the relationship they have, or might have, or should have, to anyone else.

"We've done enough. What more can you ask of us?"

Pastor Dan also had an excellent post the other day, and in it he said this:

You may be as right or as justified as you possibly can be, but if you do not maintain basic connection to the people around you, all that righteousness is wasted.
This is what boundary issues come down to: who are you maintaining basic connections with, and why? Archbishop Williams has made it clear who he wants to maintain a basic connection with. He's made it clear he thinks the fault lies entirely with The Episcopal Church, and he is now free to disdain them and their position and their choice of bishops. But basic connection is more fundamental than that, and more demanding. As Pastor Dan put it:

My ministry as an ordained pastor is not between me and God; it is a calling to serve a specific set of people. Up to a point, you have to give them whatever they want, and beyond that point, you just walk away. Most of the time, though, you have to just stand by and watch them make awful decisions, then help clean up the mess afterward. You have to stand by people. It's like that with any profession: lawyer, doctor, whatever. You have to be able to separate your own sense of right and wrong from what your clients want to see happen. That's not to say the client is always right: I've had to confront congregations about to do something terribly un-Christian more than once. But you have to at least take their concerns into consideration. A professional who simply refuses to provide services in any way, shape or form isn't much of a professional, then, because they have disregarded the needs of the people they serve.
I would broaden that, a bit. We are all called to serve whoever we come into contact with. "Lord, when did we see you?", is the most pitiful and terrible and existential question in the Gospels. It is the cry of despair when all hope is truly lost. It is the voice of fear when all reason to be afraid has truly passed. Lord, when did we see you? And the answer is always the same: when did you not?

It is not our job to keep every mess from happening, or to wash our hands of it when it does. It is our calling, our responsibility, to clean up whatever mess has been made, whoever has made it, whatever it may cost us. Nothing that happened on that bridge that night had to be a death sentence for anybody. Read Athenae's words; they're better than mine. Imagine "Disregarding the boundaries we erect to keep poverty and chaos away from us, and recognizing once and for all that we are kind and generous to everyone or we are kind to no one. That everyone is safe on high ground or no one is."

Imagine disregarding the boundaries between people of faith. Imagine disregarding the boundaries we erect to keep order and control in place, and trusting God to maintain the order and the control, a Hebraic creation that is good rather than a Hellenistic dream of reason which will collapse back into chaos. A new thing, a righteous thing, a blessed thing. Imagine really living in the Church as if "everyone is safe on high ground or no one is." Imagine it: it would be the kingdom of God.

As simple, as direct, as unbrokered, as that. Instead of "the story of a standoff, the story of fear of who was approaching, step by step," it would be the story of how "[w]e work together to do what must be done, and our compassion knows no limits."

Imagine what it would be like to be a church like that.

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